Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Mid-Year Reading Post

Six Weeks Without a Post?!?!?!??!

A hobby on life support....

Anyway, just a quick list of what I've been reading the first half of this year:


Best in Show:  The Films of Christopher Guest and Company   by John Kenneth Muir

I didn't dig this one at first, as there didn't seem to be much separating it from an overlong blog, but it finds traction when it digs into the "scripting" process and the logistics of piecing together a flick based muchly on collaborative improv.  I also really enjoyed hearing from the performers, and how much they revel in the in their part of the collaborative process.....

One Summer:  America, 1927    by Bill Bryson

A traditional Bryson meander, this time, through a five or six month period in 1927, looking at the seeming disparate events surrounding Coolidge's say and do-nothing presidency, Babe Ruth's home run chase and Charles Lindbergh's Trans-Atlantic flight, among other events.  I enjoyed the book itself, but wish I'd read instead of listened:  Bryson's narration left some to be desired.  He wandered in tone from NPR narrator to conversational, with the latter serving the humor much, much better.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring     by J.R.R. Tolkien

My nephew had been hinting around about wanting to read this.  I found a cheap copy for him, and re-read it myself.  His attempt petered out, and I told him he might want to visit the Hobbit first.  This was my second time through first not actually coming until Peter Jackson's movies started coming out, horrifying to think that those movies are closing in on 2 decades old......

Dark Tower:  the Gunslinger     by Stephen King

This one is competing with Wizard of Oz for the book I've gone through most in life.  This time was part of my chronological read-through project for King's work.  It was just my third time going through King's revised edition, which attempts to make it work more in concert with the rest of the series.  There are parts that stick out like a sore thumb (Roland's encounter with a Taheen, Hax's treasonous conversation about The Good Man), but there are parts that seem to add a little something (Walter's note after resurrecting Nort), which make me not damn the revision as harshly as I did once upon a time.  I'm still not in favor--part of the charm of the Dark Tower series is that each of the books has a feel unique to itself.  Well, the first five do, anyway.  Books 6 and 7 feel like continuations of Book 5.  King rushed those, what with his being afraid he was gonna die and whatnot.....

Things we Lost in the Fire     by Mariana Enriquez

Damn, this was a good collection.  Surprising.  Horror that's a little too relatable.  A couple of nice curveballs.  Definitely an author I'm  gonna revisit.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: a Sortabiography  by Eric Idle

Probably my favorite Python autobiography, from probably my favorite Python.  If I had to nail down which of Python's personal humors seem to best match my own, I'd have to say either Chapman or Idle.  Idle (possibly tied with Palin) seems the most down to Earth.  I got a little frustrated, early on with this one, with the name-dropping.  If there's a common irritant in Python autobiographies, it's the name dropping.  But then, Idle makes a joke about the namedropping, so I let it go.  This one's as much a musing on friendship as it is a memoir.  I liked this one.


The Troop, by Nick Cutter

Alternate Title:  Piggy Strikes Back.  Lord of the Flies meets some of the grossest body horror you can imagine.  Moves well.  Keeps your attention.  Just as it threatens to wear out its welcome, it wraps itself up.

Treasure Island,  by Robert Louis Stevenson

My friend Steve and I had begun trading books every October at an annual gathering of bloggers and whatnot.  This past October, Steve's last, he gifted me a copy of Treasure Island, illustrated by Ralph Steadman (Steve's remembering my fondness for Steadman's works).  I'd never actually read Treasure Island.  What an effective romp, even after 130 years or so after publication.

Hounded    by Kevin Hearne

My friend John gave me a copy of this a while back, and I finally sat with it.  It's fun, though the tendency to namedrop bands and favorite beers end up more as speedbumps than endearments.  It read quickly and I really dug the final battle sequence--that mess is hard to write effectively and entertainingly, and Hearne hits it out of the park with that scene....

This Dark Chest of Wonders: 40 Years of Stephen King's The Stand  by Andy Burns

Interviews and essays surrounding King's The Stand.  Burns speaks to various people involved with the novel, audio, comic and TV adaptations.  Most interviews are short and to the point.  The most interesting ones are with Jamey Sheridan, who portrayed Flagg in the 1994 TV mini-series, and Snuffy WG Walden who scored the same series (one of the strongest scores ever put to a TV show, in my opinion).  Part of the interest in these last two interviews is that the subjects don't share the King-worship that Burns does..... 

Big Fella:  Babe Ruth and the World he Created    by Jane Leavy

Not a bad read.  Every February or so I start getting the baseball itch.  I liked looking at this one from the Journalism/PR standpoint.  I feel like I read this one a little too closely to Bryson's 1927, because a lot of the background info seems cribbed from that book.....


The Coen Brothers: The Book Really Ties the Movies Together    by Adam Nayman

I wanted to like this one more.  This felt like an idea Nayman was really interested in when he started, but less and less so as he progressed.  Or maybe it was me, in my reading.  This one just didn't do a whole lot for me.

Christine   by Stephen King

One of the few early works that I'd never read.  This one's surprisingly uneven.  Changes in narration style midway through are distracting, and make the whole thing not mesh entirely.  Still, King's ability to channel what it's like to be a 17-year-old is uncanny....

Adrian's Undead Diary:  Dark Recollections     by Chris Philbrook

A Christmas gift from my buddy Micah.  The first person diary format works well considering its serial roots.  The background stories interspersed are a little jarring, but they work well overall.  I kinda liked this one, and i think I'll followup....

The Handmaid's Tale  by Margaret Atwood

The first time I read this one, it was for a college class.  And like too many books read for classes, I was only reading for content, which is like not enjoying the forest because you're too busy looking at individual trees.   This one's strong.  And and important marker for why you don't let one particular ethos have too much influence in lawmaking.  Given the political climate of the past decade or so, I don't have the same taste for dystopian fiction that I used to.  

The Elephant of Surprise,  by Joe R. Lansdale

Damn!  This one moves!  Hap and Leonard stories hit the spot.  A couple of small town wiseasses doing good.  This one has a melancholy over age that I don't remember noting in previous Hap and Leonard stories.  And for the first time, I found myself legitimately worried about a character.  I mean, both Hap and Leonard have been stabbed, shot and beaten over the course of several years.  But for some reason, when Hap worries about Leonard, it hit a chord.....


Kenichi Zenimura:  Japanese American Baseball Pioneer  by Bill Staples, Jr.

A Kindle read.  I don't recall ever having run across Zenimura's name before ready Leavy's Ruth book earlier in the year.  One of the things I like about baseball is its role in the community.  Zenimura organized pro and semi-pro leagues all around the west coast, even while interned in camps during the second World War.  I want to do more reading about the PCL and other baseball out west, as it stared separate (and sometimes equal) to the Major Leagues east of the Mississippi.....

Star Wars:  Thrawn   by Timothy Zahn

The yardwork listen.  It doesn't hold the same spark that Zahn's original trilogy did back in the early 90's.  I was quite Meh on this one.

The Million Dollar Policeman   by John Swartzwelder

These books just put me in a better mood.  Do yourself the favor and find one of Swartzwelder's mysteries.  These books are just him romping and goofing around.  They're almost jazzy in their humor.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A re-listen.  Worth the listen, if only to hear Roy Dotrice come up with distinct voices for 713 characters.....

Wounds:  Six Stories from the Border of Hell    by Nathan Ballingrud

This one came recommended.  And it's been a while that I've been so disquieted by a story like I was "The Visible Filth."  That one made me tell the cat to stop staring at me.  Likewise "Skullpocket" was oddly sweet and instantly mortifying.  A great collection.


What Stands in a Storm:  Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South's Tornado
by Kim Cross

The science in this one is good, and I like the bits with James Spann, a meteorologist I've followed online for nearly a couple of decades now.  Still, it wanders into melodrama and ends up needing a bigger scope (the storms wreaked havoc from Mississippi all the way to my neck of the woods that day, and I think the book could have been a little more ambitious....

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles    by Thomas Lennon

My loyalty to the members of The State troupe continues to bear fruit.  This one was fun.  A goofy police procedural with doses of Monty Python and Hitchhiker's Guide thrown in for good measure.  I bought a copy of this one for my nephew and sister to read, as well.

Pet Sematary    by Stephen King

Continuing my project.  This is a damn good one.   I read this one first in my initial King torrent around 1990 and 1991.  I haven't read it since, but save maybe for The Stand, this one has more imagery that's stuck with me and implanted itself in my brain.  This is a great one, even with its gothic ending.

The World Without Us  by Alan Weisman

A commute listen.  Interesting speculation on how long what we do will last, if we were, as a species, to up and disappear tomorrow.  I listened to this one as I attempted yet again to prune back the forest from hell.  If we weren't here to do this on our particular hill, I figure the house would be eaten in 5 years time.....

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
by Greg Sestero

I first ran across The Room shortly after Tommy Wiseau popped up on Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job. I found the flick, watched it, shook my head at just how inept and bizarre a thing it was, and didn't give it a lot of thought beyond that. 

The book does funny things. I started the book shaking my head in wonder, disbelief at Wiseau's actions. That changes over the course of the book. It comes down to this, I think: in my wanderings through the interweb, and even through this book, I've decided I don't care much for Greg Sestero. Not that Tommy Wiseau's any kind of peach to work with (indeed, the dude's got twin levels of will and crazy that are formidable). I find Sestero condescending, even as he's trying to be self-deprecating, even as he's circling and highlighting his own occasional doormat behavior.

Sure, he credits Tommy Wiseau for much of his success. And rightfully so. Still, there's a sneer there that I don't care for.

Now, that said? There's a fine line between passion and insanity (and perhaps inanity). 

North American Lake Monsters, by Nathan Ballingrud

Strong, though not as amazing as Wounds.  I'm happy to have run across Ballingrud.  I'll stay on the lookout.


Time's Children,  by D.B. Jackson

My buddy John got me a copy of this.  I ended up enjoying.  I enjoy Time Travel stories, but can also find them problematic--too easy to hit reset, fix a problem, and become too bogged down in time strings, etc.  I enjoy the problem of the Time Walkers....I think the cost to them (aging the same increment you travel) is an interest plot point to work with.

Lucky Town by Pete Vonder Haar

My old Blog Buddy Pete published this one this year.  I enjoyed the hell out of it.  Just the right notes of sarcasm, pop culture and mystery to keep me moving.  I look forward to another.

The British are Coming: the War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777.   by Rick Atkinson

Probably the best total overview of the war effort I've read.  The first book of a planned trilogy.  Balanced in its views from both the British & Loyalist sides as it is the Rebel.  I want to applaud its prose telling of battle tactics.  I'm deficient in my ability to visualize battle tactics, for some reason. It's odd, because I love maps.  But for some reason, I just don't see what's being described well.  Atkinson manages it, though.  I've ended up buying a couple copies to give as gifts already.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle,  by George V. Higgins

I dig the movie.  I'd never read the book, which inserts plot into amazing bits of dialog.  If I could write dialog half so well as Higgins does in this book, I'd be proud......

The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe

Last week, I went in to get brakes put on the car.  Since they had a nice rebate on some tires, and it was near time, I went ahead and got those two.  The previous night, I'd plugged my phone in, but didn't realize that the powerstrip was powered off until I got to the tire shop.  I didn't want to run down the battery in my phone with the Kindle app, so I grabbed a copy of this from my back seat.  I'd found it at the used bookstore, and had meant to give a copy to somebody if they were interested.  I read about 2/3 of it while sitting at the shop.  It's my second time through it, and it holds up.  Maybe even a little better.  I like that just glimpses are given of the Tufa.  I continue to like that Alex writes about the South in a way that doesn't lapse into parody, or make it an object of derision (something that most can't do, even when they mean well).  This is a good one, and I continue to recommend.....